Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal has been the talk of DC since she presented it to Congress in February, with supporters and detractors coming out in droves to chime in on the resolution’s feasibility and desirability. But though there has been some good-faith debate about the policy among people who agree climate change is a major problem, there’s also been a lot of wild nonsense. A prime example came last week, when the New York Post ran an expose on the freshman congresswoman’s use of fossil fuel-consuming ride-share services and airlines—that’s right, she had the audacity to use planes and cars while advocating for reduced emissions.
Learned readers will identify this attack on AOC’s alleged hypocrisy as a tu quoque fallacy, in which you accuse your opponent of inconsistency rather than arguing against the merits of their views. The congresswoman batted away the critique, but the ordeal marks just another instance of the bad-faith arguments that have become part and parcel of our modern political discourse.
Though we live in increasingly polarized times, there still seem to be a few online, scattered around the wasteland of tribalism and death threats, who attempt to honestly engage in spirited debates on the issues of the day. But don’t be fooled. For every individual entering the world of “posting” with an open mind, earnestly seeking knowledge, there are a dozen coming under false pretenses. Everyone’s mind is already made up about pretty much everything and your best course of action is to never engage with anyone about this stuff. But if you must, you should at least know how to identify the people you shouldn’t bother arguing with. So here’s a handy little guide of the worst and most unproductive forms of online discourse:
The attacks on AOC’s transpo choices are hardly a new tactic. Bernie Sanders was recently chided for wearing a (gifted) $700 coat while railing against billionaires. Al Gore’s home energy use was used to discredit his agenda when An Inconvenient Truth came out. The “champagne socialist” and “limousine liberal” slurs have long been used to try and discredit good ideas and candidates and they always will be. Karl Marx and half of history’s biggest lefty figures came from means and few would argue that they weren’t committed to their causes.
Because the Green New Deal proposes constructing high-speed rail systems to curb our reliance on domestic air travel, some, like smart-enough-to-know-better Liz Cheney, have taken to presenting that as an outright ban on plane rides. By taking this line, detractors get to pretend AOC et al are demanding evidently laughable concepts like a train from California to Hawaii, as Donald Trump announced at CPAC.
Why argue with your opponents when you can just invent opponents to OBLITERATE? A cousin of the misinterpretation, this tactic involves attributing a wild claim to your ideological foes (“Democrats want to kill newly delivered babies”) then disagreeing with that claim (“but I think babies are good”) to win an argument you were having with no one. This is something both sides do a lot—to bring it back to AOC, when she went viral for dancing in college, many liberals claimed that conservatives were outraged, but beyond the wild right-wing Twitter account that posted the dancing video, few actual conservatives seemed to be anti-dancing.
When presented with audacious claims like “the Earth is flat” or “vaccines cause autism,” most of us demand some sort of proof to back that up. But when popping off online is so easy, the burden of proof can get rather burdensome for those who’d rather espouse their off-the-wall theories and call it a day. When pressed for more info, they’ll claim it’s not their job to teach you and you should “do your own research.” Do not take their advice. Worse than those providing no links are those who provide too many, like the Jordan Peterson fans who insist that you need to watch ten hours of his lectures so you know why lobsters are good or whatever.
A key factor in surviving the hell that is Online is checking to make sure the person you’re talking to is who they say they are—or even a person at all. We already know that Russian trolls and bots have infiltrated our social media and that hasn’t stopped us from sharing their designed-to-divide content. So maybe take a grain of salt before engaging with that stock photo avatar account that pre-empts its defense of Identity Evropa with “as a black man…”
Your college drinking buddy probably thinks he’s adding to the discussion by dropping a link to a TaxesAreTheft dot Ayn article into your Facebook discussion on how to pay for Medicare for all. That boomer may have believed he was sharing the REAL Ilhan Omar Twitter account that somehow only had 14 followers and was just tweeting “death to Israel” over and over. Or maybe they both knew what they were doing. Either way, both parties showed a lack of critical thinking skills that should preclude them from discussions at the grown-ups’ table.
The apotheosis of decades of South Park is a generation of online denizens who smugly point out that actually, both sides are bad, so fuck the whole system, man. This laziness-cloaked-in-nihilism conveniently removes the need to have actual opinions about anything, but “giant douche or turd sandwich,” right?
Whether it’s wondering why America should reduce its carbon footprint if China is going to continue polluting or pointing out that Barack Obama did drone strikes when Trump’s crimes are broached, whataboutism is a Cold War relic that’s enjoyed a rich online renaissance.
Ben Shapiro and other red-pill PEZ dispensers of the intellectual dark web insist that “facts don’t care about your feelings.” They’re ready to tangle whoever dare engage them in enough ipso factos and QEDs that their opponents will eventually tap out and forfeit the point. Arguing politics online is always a disaster, but arguing with someone who insists that they, unlike you, are motivated by pure reason is actually less productive than debating a brick wall.
Speaking of debate, the Logic DESTROYER’s kin still live in a world where failure to accept a gentlemanly duel challenge besmirches one’s honour and counts as a forfeit. Whether harassing popular politicians or just clogging up your menchies, the “debate me” dudes believe your opinions or beliefs are only valid if you are willing to carve time out of your day to defend it to some prick on the internet. And if you refuse them their moment of glory, they howl about how you’ve infringed upon their right to free speech.
Also known as “sealioning,” due to a 2014 webcomic about the archetype, this debater hides behind the pretense of civility to incessantly “Just Ask Questions” until his quarry is provoked into snapping at the annoyance, at which point the JAQer presumably ejaculates. In Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online, linguistic anthropologist Amy Johnson compares the tactic to a “denial of service (DoS) attack… aimed at humans rather than servers.” In both scenarios—in all scenarios actually—unplugging works.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.